Politics of intimidation and donor acquiescence won’t deliver democracy

Opposition members who lost the 1980 Uganda elections waged a guerilla war because UPC had not only intimidated voters and rigged the results but also used government resources and institutions and benefited from foreign support. Although not free and fair, the Commonwealth Observers declared the voting process and results satisfactory. UPC came to power for the second time.

In justifying what sparked the guerilla war, NRM observed that Obote and Muwanga allocated seats to their party cohorts even in areas where UPC candidates had scored less that ten percent of total votes cast. It added that besides Tanzania’s support, UPC used its control of national radio, the army, police and other state machinery to rig the election. This illegal action imposed an unpopular minority clique on the people of Uganda, leaving them no option but to take up arms in defense of people’s democratic rights.

In 1986, the rebels led by NRM came to power through the barrel of the gum with foreign fighters amounting to about 25 percent of NRM rebels and foreign backers. Because of its minority status, NRM with acquiescence of the international community delayed elections until 1996.

Examining the evils of ethnic politics

All of us are familiar with ethnic groups, ethnicity, tribal groups and tribalism. Before tracing their application and impact in a political economy context, let us define ethnicity which is more commonly used than tribalism.

Ethnicity relates to a situation associated with a cultural, linguistic, racial, ancestral and religious groups or a combination of them within societies. Ethnicity has its roots in migrations, wars and other disturbances that trigger major population movements resulting in interaction with other groups in unequal relationships.

Because of this background, ethnicity is characterized by cultural prejudices, social discrimination and exclusiveness of its members. Generally, ethnicity finds expression in political domination, economic exploitation and psychological expression. The intensity, nature and forms of ethnic expressions are determined by the strength and cohesion of the ethnic leadership, courage, determination and nature of the underprivileged classes and the degree of foreign influence in a particular society.

In a multicultural setting where ethnicity is practiced social harmony becomes difficult to realize. It often results in violent conflicts for example in Burundi, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo. Also ethnicity can lead to endemic political instability such as in Uganda, Spain, Sudan, Nigeria, Belgium, etc or even a breakup of countries such as the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

Contradictions in Uganda’s development policy

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, Ugandans need to take stock of how far they have come and decide on where they want to go. Since the NRM government came to power in 1986, its development record has been characterized by three major factors – overdependence on foreign advisers, abrupt and major shift in development policy (from ten-point program to the Washington Consensus and since September 2009 to economic development planning). I have written on the first two factors and posted the articles on my blog www.kashambuzi.com. In this article we shall focus on contradictions which give the impression of failure to design policy on some issues or lack of collective responsibility.

Before NRM captured power, its cadres from different development backgrounds had debated and reached a consensus on policies contained in the ten-point program. Until July 1987 when the government launched the structural adjustment program, government representatives spoke with one voice.

Since July 1987, many government representatives have contradicted one another giving an indication of lack of harmony in policy making and collective responsibility. Let us review a few examples.

The role of Uganda’s under-five children in human capital formation

In his end of 2009 address, President Museveni included the important subject of human development. To achieve it he stressed universal primary and secondary education. He also underlined the critical role of a sound health system, adequate provision of safe water and proper sanitation facilities. However, he left out two important aspects – under-five children and food security. Without these two, no country can achieve satisfactory human capital development.

It is surprising that the president left out food security because it was an area that received his strong support at the beginning of his presidency. He lamented that food insecurity in Uganda had been caused by neglecting the production of nutritious food stuffs (finger-millet, sorghum, soya beans etc) in favor of cash crops (coffee, cotton, tea and tobacco) needed by consumers in foreign countries. He stressed, at home and abroad, the need to re-orient Uganda’s economy so that food production for domestic consumption is balanced with production for export markets.

It has long been recognized that human development begins with the health and especially the nutritional status of the mother at the time she conceives. A mother who is under-nourished will likely produce under-weight children with permanent disabilities including physical and mental retardation. Therefore human capital development should begin with adequate nutrition of the mother to produce a healthy and normal child.

Museveni’s end of 2009 address suffers from obscurantism

During his first inaugural address in 1986, Yoweri Museveni denounced the philosophy of obscurantism, a situation where ideas are deliberately obscured. Because NRM and its leadership were not interested in the politics of obscurantism, they, like good doctors, would diagnose correctly the ills of Ugandan society before announcing corrective measures. He touched on Uganda’s core development challenge when he condemned Uganda leaders who travel in executive jets while 90 percent of Ugandans have no shoes.

After a careful and comprehensive analysis, NRM recommended solutions to Uganda’s economic and social ills in a ten-point program in which, inter alia, production for domestic and external markets would be balanced and Uganda would be metamorphosed into an integrated, self-sustaining and independent economy.

On January 26, 1990, President Museveni announced a major economic policy shift that abandoned the popular ten-point program in favor of the Washington Consensus based on market forces and laissez-faire capitalism. He embraced export-led growth that diversified into non-traditional exports mostly of foodstuffs traditionally grown for domestic consumption.

The president and his government did not tell the nation that the shift was dictated by donors as a condition for financial and technical assistance. The government opened the country to all stakeholders with new ideas knowing full well that many of them were experimental and may undermine Uganda’s development prospects.